Sunday, December 26, 2010

All In

What a week it has been:
Democrats, pundits, and the gay community are all cheering the legislative successes of the Christmas season.
The celebration marking the end of DADT arrived right on time. Answered prayers, a Christmas present, timed to correspond to the birthday of the Prince of Peace, gays, lesbians, bi's and tranies, have won the right to fight along side their straight brothers and sisters. Now that Spartan lance can be used to advance the forces of US military might the world around. (In the name of historical accuracy remember that Sparta waged war on Athens because it feared the spread of Athenian democracy.)

I say let's seize the day. When the forces of egalitarianism are on a roll, and the honor of being a soldier in arms has never been higher, let's organize to extend to those repeatedly denied, the opportunity to join the fight. I have never understood the arbitrary age of 18 as being the minimum acceptable for admission into the armed forces. In this age when any 10 year old possesses the hand eye coordination to dominate "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare" the video game, it is obvious that represents a transferable skill for modern warfare, say drone missions. Let's stage a competition for those younger men and women who want to compete and the prize will be enlistment.

As a senior with so little life left to lose I think that it is a fitting and proper that my, most selfish gen, give back service for the gifts we have enjoyed. The best of us are tactical, and in many cases the health services available to us on mission exceed those in our local community. I want to be able to join.
I don't want to overlook the most egregious of the sins of recruitment omission. Our physically challenged brothers and sisters have proven their metal in Special Olympics and everyday feats of overcoming barriers to access. This is a military that fights with its minds and as long as a citizen is in his right mind I believe we can accommodate their desire to be treated as whole citizens. Dismembered Vets who are heard every night expressing a desire to return to their units abroad should be allowed.
Maybe no person deserves the right to re-up more than the abused Vietnam veteran. No one thanked him for his deployment at the time. This is his chance for redemption. We will respect him for his service.

Ironically, the only peace protest this week was conducted by Veterans for Peace

More at The Real News

This was the week in which Civil defense forces in Seoul, Korea ran drills shutting down the city and moving tens of thousands of citizens into bomb shelters. Their political leaders are heard to say they want to fight the complacency of the average citizen re the prospects for a confrontation with the North.
This was the week of the START treaty approval. I hope you got a chance to listen to a piece of the so-called debate. Naysayers were not going to allow Russians to limit our tactical nuclear war machine, our missiles on rails, or in any way inhibit the effectiveness and battle readiness of our nuclear warheads and their delivery systems. They won. Here is a summary of the treaty
The UK Guardian has an analysis of the numbers of nuclear weapons in the world and who has them.

While the START treaty was being debated Americans were told of the survivability of a nuclear war and, contrary to popular belief, we are instructed to stay home, hide in the basement and stay off the highways.

Wired Magazine published a piece ‘Regional’ Nuclear War Would Cause Worldwide Destruction that contains a realistic study of the consequences of a limited nuclear exchange.
Here is another conclusion from a study by the American Geophysical Union of the effects of a very limited nuclear exchange: Cooling from a limited nuclear exchange would create two to three consecutive "Years Without a Summer", and over a decade of significantly reduced crop yields. The authors anticipated that the smoke in the stratosphere would partially destroy Earth's protective stratospheric ozone layer as well, but did not model how large of an impact this would have. Clearly, even a limited nuclear exchange could trigger severe global climate change capable of causing economic chaos and widespread starvation.

We have something like a dry run in the aftermath of the "accident" at Chernobyl.

Nobody has a better take on this then Randy Newman

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Gift

The grand guy is 5 today. The event occasions a lot of thought. C and I are starting to contemplate the final gift, the legacy we can leave the family.

We take all too seriously the probability that whatever cash we might have will be inflated away. That belief results in the avoidance of toys, and diversions as gifts. Coming off the Chanukah round and heading into the Christmas season it is hard to maintain some kind of reason in the face of the buying tide that engulfs us all. An idea becomes obvious; we can't fritter away what we have on junk.
We want to set a serious tone about values. We are trying to define wealth, imagine what it might consist of going forward, and endow the family with the ways and means to help secure their future.
The best gifts I received as a child (excluding the Rawlings PM7 baseball mitt) were those certificates, shares of stock, (1000 shares of USAir grandpa bought at $3, for my Bar Mitzvah) that sat undisturbed in the desk drawer and quietly accrued value until we sold them, at $33, to pay off college loans. We were lucky. The market has been a storehouse of wealth. I have no such confidence going forward. No shares for Westley.

The gold bugs have replaced paper for a hard currency. All well and good. But the fact is that for gold to be of value it must be exchanged for a consumable at the end of the day or it remains no more than a symbol. No bars for Westley. We could contribute to a college fund which of itself reinforces the horrible and disproportionate inflation that is tuition. No 529 for the boy.

We recently returned from a visit to the children during which time the family were guests at a friend's birthday party. We talked about it on the long drive home. We sense the pressure to engage the kids in a memorable experience. In this case it was a bowling party. They had a ball. Conversations with the parents during the party, getting to know them a bit, revealed that most of the 15 moms at the party are members of a reading group. The men were heard roaring and lying the way their dads did before them. They have figured out how to be together at times of no import. There is no evidence that they congregate to contemplate the big issues of the day. They appear to pursue their hopes and dreams within the privacy of their separate homes. Their fates are going to be determined independent of one another.

I have spent my entire life in pursuit of the promise of community. I have failed to find it. From the early shock of my high school fraternity deciding to black-ball my friend and my resignation because of it, to the ultimate, and finally acceptance of the truth that self interest trumps community every time. I wonder if this "truth" is one that is a by-product of wealth. As one acquires more money it seems the most obvious way to express it is to buy the house on the hill,"top out of sight", the furthest one can get away from ones neighbors. Clearly the owner doesn't believe that he will ever need them. One wonders how this will play if and when times get tough.

I think the family needs a fall back position. If this were a suggestion that they ought to form some kind of commune, get in front of the curve, I would be tolerated and dismissed as the unreconstructed 60's refuge that I am. But, what if the project was something more immediately practical, useful, and without the stigma of group grope?

My children contemplate vacation destinations. My son hunts with friends. My grandson attends day camp all during the summer. How would they respond to the idea that they build a camp for themselves. Not a second home, or a getaway but a camp in the woods shared by any and all of their friends who want a piece. Hopefully the place will never have to be more than a retreat. But if/then they have it. They will have learned to work together. They will have shared basic skills. Here's the deal.

Our gift to Westley, his parents, and their friends, is to match any amount that other friends and/or their parents are willing to put up to buy such a place. A hypothetical might be that Max/Rachel share this idea with 20 friends. 10 friends want to pursue it. They identify a 20 acre parcel in the near woods that is private and affordable. They split the price ten ways. Our check is in the mail

Happy Birthday

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


We just finished our leftovers and with the last serving we swore; never again to turkey. I don't care how good you are at cooking turkey the fact is, if you weren't hyped to death to eat or serve this bird to fill out the Norman Rockwell "way it's supposed to be" image of Thanksgiving, you would never eat it. When was the last time you ate turkey other than a holiday? The sides are fabulous. Serve them around a great pic of a turkey that you can stand up as a centerpiece and let that satisfy the photo op.

Below are two leftovers, a food thought and a re-post of a current outrage. I include the latter as food for thought. Mine was not the only table around which political discussions got heated. In tens of thousands of households around the country, newly matriculated freshmen were home from their first semester of, say, social studies 101. Heretofore in these families the opinions of the "heads" of the table were for the most part the orientation of the family. In this particularly heady times, hot on the heels of an election, one can imagine that some opinion was served with the slice of turkey. You can also assume that it was met with a disagreement. Headstrong in their new found contrary perspective, the recent initiate into the "liberalizing" experience of higher ed shot back his/her countervailing point of view. See this summary of research that supports the proposition that attending college has the effect of increasing; tolerance of diversity, the desire to do public service, and identifying oneself as "liberal". The impact of this interruption of the tradition of "father knows best" is only getting larger as more and more students join the ranks. Despite the pundits' acceptance of the lie that we are a center right nation, the trend seems to be in place for a meaningful shift to the left. It will require lots of truth telling. Some of which got left on the table.

Carrie posted a pic of a rye bread I baked for Thanksgiving. Her readers wanted the recipe.

The preamble to making this bread the proper way is to be acquainted with Jim Lahey's method of making yeast breads. It is a no knead bread, with an overnight fermentation(24 hr) and the bread, when baked is placed in a cast iron dutch oven (your crueset will work fine) which has been preheated in a very hot (500degree) oven.

The size of the dutch oven determines the size of the loaf. I use a very large Staub.You will more likely have a Lodge or Crueset or lookalike. If yours is 6 quart stick with the following proportions. If you have a larger dutch oven, 9+ quarts, you can double the recipe. The water ratio is key. It is not fixed. Start with the following amounts and if you have loose flour add another 1/2 cup. What you want is a moist dough. Incorporate the caraway with the other dry ingredients and use another tablespoon to sprinkle over the loaf after it lands in the dutch oven. I don't double the yeast and don't quite double the salt. After your initial rising you are going to turn out a really moist dough. Use a dough scrapper to fold it over on itself, cover and allow a second rising ( an hour). I do this on a pizza peal, or use a cookie sheet, so that I can transfer it to my now very hot dutch oven without burning myself. It will flop. It will look wrong. It is ok. The loaf will form out to fit the oven. Sprinkle the surface with the rest of the caraway seeds. bake for 1/2 hour then remove the lid and reduce the heat to 400 for another 20-40 minutes. Don't burn the bread but don't remove too soon. This is a judgment call. The loaf is easy to remove from the oven using tongs. Hold the loaf in a tea towel, thunk the bottom listening for that hollow sound that says all is well. It usually requires more time or there will be moist spots in the center. You can slide the bread directly back into the oven for another 10 mins to finish. I often turn off heat and let it the bread cool therein. Pumpernickel raisin is next. Lehey goes nuts in his book knocking off amy's semolina raisin bread. I have a better recipe I will share with you later.

2 1/4 c Bread Fl
3/4 c rye fl
1 1/4 t salt
1/2 t yeast
1 1/3 c warm water
2 T caraway seeds
Rye for dusting

(The bread pictured was double the above recipe)
This is the link to see the original posting which changed so many peoples minds about kneading. I kneaded for YEARS and was known for the second best bread around in my territory. All those wasted hours!! This is BETTER.

If you need any further encouragement Google Jim Lahey no knead bread and read some of the entries. End of Carrie's e-mail

In the spirit of calling out the liars the following is an excerpt from the blog Lynnrockets' Blast-Off
I would have posted the whole entry but the use of a cartoon of Newt in Nazi gear is a practice I don't support. The posting however goes into detail re. the German health care system and is worth reading.

"Gingrich vomited a diatribe on what a truly great nation Germany is and why the United States should emulate its policies. How’s that for “American exceptionalism” and patriotism? What would Gingrich and the Republicans have to say if a Democrat expressed that opinion? When one of the show’s hosts agreed with him and then questioned if whether Germany’s universal health care system should also be applauded, Gingrich started with the lies and misinformation.
To begin, he claimed that Germany has a private health care system which is run by over 350 private insurance companies with minimal government funding, supervision or regulatory authority. He then lied by saying that German citizens privately purchase their own health care insurance policies from these private insurers and that they can change their plans and providers whenever they choose. In essence, Gingrich stated that Germany’s health care system is even more privatized than the American system was prior to this year’s health care reform legislation. In the words of Stephen Colbert, Gingrich’s characterization of Germany’s health care system was devoid of “truthiness”.
The truth is, that Germany has Europe’s oldest universal health care system which dates back to 1883 with changes made thereafter. Currently 85% of the population is covered by a basic health insurance plan provided by statute, which provides a standard level of coverage. The remainder opt for private health insurance, which frequently offers additional benefits. According to the World Health Organization, Germany’s health care system is 77% government-funded and 23% privately funded. Additionally, the government partially reimburses the costs for low-wage workers, whose premiums are capped at a predetermined value. Higher wage earners pay a premium based on their salary. Those higher earners may also opt for private insurance, which is generally more expensive, but whose price may vary based on the individual’s health status.
Germany has a universal multi-payer system with two main types of health insurance, public and private."

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Call To, if not arms, Voices

As an unreconstructed lefty, it is humiliating to see the inability of liberals to push back against the outrages of the right. The ease with which the inflamed right can push, denigrate, abuse, excoriate, and feign insult when anyone even gently pushes back reveals their knowledge of what it means to have a street fight with a "civil", over-educated, opponent, who can't and won't fight back. You can get away with anything.

The so-called left, intent on maintaining the appearance of dignity, taking the beating, and applying the balm of the moral high ground, pretends it doesn't hear the clarion call of its followers to get tough. It doesn't know how to get tough. It is what is implied when the right accuses the left of being timid regarding the conduct of war. The bully knows how to punch and run, to use the power of the mob, to resort to arms when reason fails them. The liberal response; become more like them. Fight a bigger war, wage war against your constituency. It wasn't long after Hillary accused the right of a giant conspiracy that President Clinton threw single moms off the welfare rolls. Obama escalates the war in Afghanistan and extends the time line. This administration pays off wall street, the insurance companies, and the banks. This administration refuses to fight for the rights of gays in the military, the office of consumer protection, or victims of foreclosure fraud.

We now have a president who invites the opposition to a "summit" and they refuse to attend. We have a president who apparently doesn't believe Sen. McConnell when the senator declares he is going after him. Rep. Paul Ryan, sent up as the Republican author of an economic alternative, recoils from Charlie Rose's attempt to forge a spirit of compromise by suggesting the Obama can't be worked with, he referred to Republicans as "the enemy" during the run up to the last election. This after The President of the United States is called a liar on the floor of the house, and a Nazi, communist, and traitor, in the streets and on the air. The President is looking for ways to work with them.

We have a press that reports the blather of the big lie; Soros was a Nazi, liberals run the media, the poor caused the financial crisis. The response? Jon Stewart hauls a million people to the mall for a be in and doesn't ask them to do anything.

Republicans, to the person voted against gender equity in pay yesterday. No one called them out. Nor do they get called out on their anti-unemployment insurance votes, their calls to repeal "Obamacare", or their threat to shut down the government if tax breaks for the rich aren't extended.

The problem was personified this morning when on c-span, Sarah Wartell, Center for American Progress, Executive Vice President, had to listen to a call-in calling her "a communist, a socialist, a person who doesn't get it." The caller then described seeing people rioting to get subsidized housing, and food stamps, while the rest of us work. They don't take care of their children, they should be made to work for their money...she went on. Ms Wartell's response, framed like a deer in the headlights, "we have to work harder to see to it that government programs are run more effectively". She can't and won't call this woman out as a racist for that would be playing the race card. She can't point out to this woman that the greatest welfare theft in the history of mankind happened to the benefit of the super rich, for that would be engaging in class warfare. She sits, mum. The caller wins the round.

Gingrich says he wants to roll the country back to 1932 and no one calls him out on it. The so-called strict constitutionalists argue against any program not specified in the document, and no one calls them out on it. Sarah Palin suggests that the ideology of the Obamas was forged when listening to anti-white harangues from the pulpit and no one calls her out on it.

The left may not want to get their hands dirty in the midst of this. What they are really missing is the affinity they would enjoy with those millions who don't like liars and bullies and would love to see someone knock them on their asses. That's what leadership is, taking on the fight that the average citizen watches from the sideline.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Election Day Lessons

Moms can't catch a break. The following is an excerpt: From Erica Jong, WSJ Saturday Essay
"Our obsession with parenting is an avoidance strategy. It allows us to substitute our own small world for the world as a whole. But the entire planet is a child's home, and other adults are also mothers and fathers. We cannot separate our children from the ills that affect everyone, however hard we try. Aspiring to be perfect parents seems like a pathetic attempt to control what we can while ignoring problems that seem beyond our reach.

As we give up on ideals of community, we focus more and more on our individual children, perhaps not realizing that the community and the child cannot be separated."

The NYT blog response, if read by moms will drive them to distraction. Time better spent focusing on the job at hand. The facts, as witnessed in one tiny village on the Hudson, belie all of the summary statements made by those who write about parenting.

It happened that our kids' schedule conflict allowed us the privilege of child caring. It was election day. The prospect of a long day in a small hurricane was eased when Evelyn invited us to her home where moms were going to gather to staff the phones in a get out the vote pitch. Their children would play together as another coincidence had it that the schools were closed for a work day. No "avoidance" here.

Carrie and I are no strangers to phone banks and so we did our share. The attic was commandeered by the kids and one of us would drift up to check out the scene from time to time. The kids got on well. As moms came and went the conversation ebbed and flowed around the political issues of the day. I shared the perspective that it seemed moms were comfortable in their roles as moms. We had noted that all of the moms in this house had been seen picking up their children from school the day before, and that there was a great turnout and crazy fun had in the previous weekend halloween activities. (Cold Spring, NY is a mecca for over the top halloween celebration). Years earlier a new mom friend of ours howled with frustration; "I am tired of being the only mom in the tot lot!"

These moms are in the process. I heard all manner of civic, and social engagement. No "ignoring problems beyond their reach." They are bonding as a community. This scene was repeated around the country as new energy electrified the electorate. Moms are widely disparate and being manipulated in opposition to each other but that cynical strategy is not going to work. When the pols and the pundits fail to deliver a safe and secure future for their children, the moms are going to unite and create their own. They are going to clear the decks of people who presume to tell them there is A way. The truth is that nothing dramatic happened that day, And that is as it should be.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Unsaid

If you are going to participate in this democracy there are some facts you just have to know.

"Starve the Beast" is a policy strategy that when implemented, (tax cuts under President Bush for example), hopes to slash government by denying it money. A far more devastating form of the same policy is to create massive amounts of debt, generating the kind of fiscal crisis we now suffer, and limiting the governments ability to fund. Bush did both.
Grover Norquist, an architect of the Bush program, states his objectives: "Norquist favors dramatically reducing the size of the government. He has been noted for his widely quoted quip: "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."
He has also stated, "Cutting the government in half in one generation is both an ambitious and reasonable goal. If we work hard we will accomplish this and more by 2025. Then the conservative movement can set a new goal. I have a recommendation: To cut government in half again by 2050". The Americans for Tax Reform mission statement is "The government's power to control one's life derives from its power to tax. We believe that power should be minimized."
Norquist is the author of the book Leave Us Alone: Getting the Government's Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives,published on March 11, 2008 by HarperCollins. He has variously served as a monthly "Politics" columnist and contributing editor to The American Spectator." The above is a wiki citation.

Ed Gilgore, a democratic strategist, wrote in 2004 an article that set out the policy as it was being adopted by then President Bush.

Paul Krugman revisited the issue this year and threw down the gauntlet to republicans to name just where they would make the cuts they demand.

What Krugman didn't say, and no dem will admit, is that they have lost the political battle. Here is their problem in a nutshell: Having chosen to go along, in the name of bi-partisanship; funding the Iraq and Afghan war off the books, approving drug benefits to Medicare, and most egregiously, funding the bankers bailout, the dems have sealed their fate. In addition to all of that activity under Bush, the democrats were not going to curtail their agenda when they gained control. Health care reform, school reform, engaging the world in nation building, funding alternative energy R/D, bailing out Fannie and Freddie, are some of the programs we have watched them implement. The effect of all of this is to grow the debt and the national outrage against it. The bank appears to be broken on their watch. They are going to pay.

What neither party was ready to imagine was the extent to which the national bankruptcy is not a function of public policy but rather the wholesale theft of our treasury. Dan Froomkin's piece on Harvard's Neiman Watchdog gets at just one element of the theft, the mortgage fraud. It is exactly at this point that most eyes are going to fall off the page and it is for just that reason that readers must press on. You haven't heard too much re. this fiasco, you haven't heard nearly enough.
Here is a Slate article on the passing through of billions of taxpayer dollars to foreign banks.
Here is a statement on the same subject from the right.
These articles address some of the trillions of dollars that have passed from taxpayers to vested interests. These articles don't address the negative wealth effect of the blowup on the average citizen. Trillions of dollars of assets have evaporated in the form of securities losses and house values. You've seen the pictures of the gutted houses in city after city. You don't live in a slum. This doesn't effect you. On your next drive note the number of for sale/lease signs in your neighborhood commercial district to get a since of the scope of the problem. This does affect you. The pic at the top of this post is but a segment of Domino's world headquarters. It is for rent.

This excerpt from Elizabeth Warren corrects some of the newspeak out there:
"Through it all, families never asked for a handout from anyone, especially Washington. They were left to go on their own, working harder, squeezing nickels, and taking care of themselves. But their economic boats have been taking on water for years, and now the crisis has swamped millions of middle class families.
The contrast with the big banks could not be sharper. While the middle class has been caught in an economic vise, the financial industry that was supposed to serve them has prospered at their expense. Consumer banking -- selling debt to middle class families -- has been a gold mine. Boring banking has given way to creative banking, and the industry has generated tens of billions of dollars annually in fees made possible by deceptive and dangerous terms buried in the fine print of opaque, incomprehensible, and largely unregulated contracts.
And when various forms of this creative banking triggered economic crisis, the banks went to Washington for a handout. All the while, top executives kept their jobs and retained their bonuses. Even though the tax dollars that supported the bailout came largely from middle class families -- from people already working hard to make ends meet -- the beneficiaries of those tax dollars are now lobbying Congress to preserve the rules that had let those huge banks feast off the middle class.
Pundits talk about "populist rage" as a way to trivialize the anger and fear coursing through the middle class. But they have it wrong. Families understand with crystalline clarity that the rules they have played by are not the same rules that govern Wall Street. They understand that no American family is "too big to fail." They recognize that business models have shifted and that big banks are pulling out all the stops to squeeze families and boost revenues. They understand that their economic security is under assault and that leaving consumer debt effectively unregulated does not work.
Families are ready for change. According to polls, large majorities of Americans have welcomed the Obama Administration's proposal for a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). The CFPA would be answerable to consumers -- not to banks and not to Wall Street. The agency would have the power to end tricks-and-traps pricing and to start leveling the playing field so that consumers have the tools they need to compare prices and manage their money. The response of the big banks has been to swing into action against the Agency, fighting with all their lobbying might to keep business-as-usual. They are pulling out all the stops to kill the agency before it is born. And if those practices crush millions more families, who cares -- so long as the profits stay high and the bonuses keep coming.
America today has plenty of rich and super-rich. But it has far more families who did all the right things, but who still have no real security. Going to college and finding a good job no longer guarantee economic safety. Paying for a child's education and setting aside enough for a decent retirement have become distant dreams. Tens of millions of once-secure middle class families now live paycheck to paycheck, watching as their debts pile up and worrying about whether a pink slip or a bad diagnosis will send them hurtling over an economic cliff.
America without a strong middle class? Unthinkable, but the once-solid foundation is shaking."

These statements serve her interest, validating the agency she intends to create. What she can't do is claw back the money that was stolen. She suggests that we need to regulate to keep them from doing this again. There is no "again". It's done. There is no capital, there is only debt finance. All of the loans made since 2007 are on leveraged funds. Government funds. And lending institutions are not going to lend these monies if they fear the collapse of the dollar (in which the loans are denominated) or that interests rates will rise (which they must). The impact of all of this is that whichever party ascends to power they are powerless to offset the damage. The republicans have their wish, the beast is starved. Now the question is, how do you run the government, any level of government with no money? Here is the brit's solution. (FYI, Quango=quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation). A corporate state. We are heading in the same direction.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Books of Samuel

We arrived at the Art Institute of Chicago about a half hour before opening and took the opportunity to stretch out on the benches in the park and catch some rays.

I hear a meek voice declare that this is not a request for money; "if you could just help me with my assignment that is all I am asking". I peek up to see an impish, cockeyed teen, dressed in piped jeans, purcell's, and a pork pie diddy-bop hat sitting jauntily atop his head. His name is Samuel. Too cute.

I tell him I'll trade, give him what he wants if he will answer some questions and sit awhile. He agrees. We are to fill in a 2/2 post-it note with a tragedy. I write Mel Brook's definition, "comedy is you fall in an open manhole, tragedy is I have a splinter". He accepts the note and explains that this is good as his prof is looking for irony. Carrie writes that if Romeo were gay, he would have never killed Tybalt and tragedy would have been avoided. It provokes no answer. He is to gather 98 more notes in the park.

I ask him where he is from and he informs me a suburb to the north. I'm just a visitor and assume he means north-side and he tells me no, further north and west, a ghetto. Whoa!
And which school are you attending? "SAIC the college attached to the Art Institute".

So you're poor? "Yeah, and worse, a Mexican".
How did you get here? "I worked since I was 8 years old, mornings before school, and weekends, because I knew then I wanted to be an artist. My dad is rarely home and when he is it's the shit, but mom didn't stop me. I started auditing art classes at my local community college when I was 12. I took the train here to the high school and took classes though I wasn't an official student. I had no friends I could talk to. My grandma was my best friend. I put together a portfolio of my work and applied for a scholarship here and I won it."

What kind of work do you do? "Collages mostly. My grandma, sitting in front of fields of flowers".
Do you know where you are from? "A village about 100 miles south of Mexico City. Grandma is going to take me back".

Have you seen the "It Get's Better" project? "No never heard of it."
Well it is testimony from people who have been bullied in school addressing how they survived and how things got better for them.

"Things already got better for me. I got a $140,000 dollar scholarship".

He tips his hat and moves on.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Waiting for Supermen

Screeners of the new film documentary, "Waiting for Superman" have been told to bring towels. As if the audience had no idea of the state of public education in America. It is true that there are those who live at such a remove from troubled school districts that they may have never actually been in a central city school, those living in rural Montana for example, but the rest of us have either fled them for cause (Obama fesses up) or their cable has been cut for the last 50 years. I spoke on this blog in February to some of the issues.

Let's allow the possibility that what these kids haven't been getting is absolutely known to all of us and we have chosen to do nothing about it. People within the Washington D.C. metro area who are old enough will remember "massive resistance" and those that don't ought to read this link. It is a perfect example of a very public expression of an area of the country saying no to integration because they knew that children of color were under educated in sub par schools and whites were not going to be forced into those schools. They didn't pretend they didn't know what was going on. They had supported keeping those kids in their place. And white kids were not going to that place.

But let's get some perspective here. To make the leap from; we are keeping the black and brown folk down, to, we have a broken system. is the height of public manipulation. Let's get some facts on the table before we get caught up in the great public diversion away from our other problems:
There is not one vacant seat in any of the colleges and universities in America. Evidence includes a discussion group that identifies the acceptance rate at leading universities and includes a discussion of Cal Tech. Cal Tech applicants come from California public schools.
There are millions of highly qualified, educated persons, standing in unemployment lines.
The economic success of the BRICs is not because their schools are better than ours. They have a work force that will work for less.
We are not losing our ability to compete in the world because some inner city kid is being trampled.

Another set of behaviors, educational outcomes, is more interesting to me:
The people who implement all the current forms of "massive or passive resistance" are highly educated.
The persons who designed and built the killer drone unmanned aircraft are all Ph.D. engineers.
The persons who designed and implemented the ad campaign for "Sugar Smacks" were all college grads.
Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Kennedy to name but two, are law school grads who voted to extend to corporations the rights of individuals.
All of the bankers and insurance company executives that have brought the world as we knew it to an end are business school graduates.
The Unabomber is a Harvard Graduate.
The geniuses that destroyed the American auto industry were all graduate engineers.
The persons who are asking for your tax dollars to support a manned mission to Mars, to sustain the thread of life that will expire on Earth, are all graduates of schools of higher education.
The generals that brought you Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan are all graduates of West Point.
The software engineers that gave you the ability to reduce human existence to the banality of tweets are all highly educated.

After the current round of the education debate is over, refueled by the guilt instilled by the latest film documentary on the subject, I am going to be asked to divert my money away from some form of self indulgence to support the improvement of the educational circumstances of under-privileged kids in city school systems. I will "resist". What I am more than ready to do is give up meat to challenge the efficacy of American higher education. I want my money to be used to create a set of objectives for our graduates that includes ethics, morals, and a sense of responsibility to our fellow human beings on this planet. Moral college graduates will not tolerate the destruction of others. They will improve education.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Pox on Both Your Houses

The war against the poor is at once brutal, subtle, and rife with contradictions.

The life lessons that had the most effect on me came while I was in the field. None more profound than while on a recruitment tour for a new college my firm had bought and hoped to reform. The argument offered in our catalog was that essentially the administration of this new college has accepted the premises laid out in Donella Meadows publication, Limits To Growth.

If our new reality was that we were going to have to learn to do "more with less", then our curriculum was going to reflect a new set of studies, teaching methods, and evaluations. We imagined these reforms would afford our students a skill set that would serve them well in a world about to radically change.

For example we integrated studies, proposed team work as of the highest value, moved teaching staff from the front of the class to within the body of the learning community, and created courses that included problem solving, design and planning, even within the traditional humanities.

I brought my program to guidance counselors in high schools in MD, NY, and was satisfied with responses from students indicating they would apply. I had yet to meet with parents. I had family in Hartford, Ct and they agreed to host a gathering of prospective students in their home. On the given evening I greeted more than 50 parents and students in this suburban setting. The students were animated, asking tough questions, most of which centered on accreditation. (because of the changes we proposed, our accreditation was under review). There were a disproportionate number of lawyers in the group and this became apparent when the parents, having heard enough, rose up in revolt. Let me reduce it to one parent's statement that summarized the spirit in the room: "I am going to assume that all of your presumptions about the future are correct. More and more people are going to be chasing fewer and fewer resources. In such a scenario I am going to strongly advise my daughter to consider the Ivy league options she has available to her, and increase her competitive advantage." This statement was seconded by all of the parents in the room, and the generation gap widened during the course of the evening. The lesson for me was laid out in that room and learned: When the times get tough, the haves are going to hang on like crazy. These neighbors were friends of my relative, a Democrat, an elected official. This was the voice of the suburban left.

Program policies directed at the poor were traditionally premised on a belief that what had hampered the development of the poor was their lack of inclusion in an economic system that was otherwise sound. No matter the regime, if the political world view was that ours was a nation of plenty, though the methods might change as to how one might stimulate income gains, poverty could be eliminated by the poor gaining access to the system. Now we know that the push back that started with Reagan; rejection of affirmative action, welfare reform, emphasis on the language of so-called equal opportunity at the expense of equal outcomes, might have been embedded in the reality that middle class America was already trying to make do with less. Rather than assuming malignant intent to those who waged war on the poor from the right, it is more likely that they share with their brothers on the left, an awareness that the economy is indeed shrinking, the times are getting tougher, and self interest trumps goodwill every time.

There was something honest about the stated self interest of Dems in Ct. Not so the current harangue from the right that would have you believe that their interests are really not classist, they are concerned with the welfare of the nation. Their objection to the expansion of health care to the poor is to protect the budget. They are deficit hawks, or so they would have you believe. Their stance on immigration is really about homeland security and not a threat to their piece of an ever shrinking pie.

As the ranks of the poor are swelling the questions for us are: Has the forecast of limits been realized? What kind of curriculum do we want in place today? Do we have any responsibility to any of our neighbors? Is this a nation or a pack of dogs, fighting for what they fear is their last meal?

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Freedom, Rights, Privilege

Phyllis Schlafly continues to head the Eagle Forum, a radical conservative "think tank" , that is part of the chorus of hard right reactionaries. One paragraph from their home page sets the tone:
"We oppose all encroachments against American sovereignty through United Nations treaties or conferences that try to impose global taxes, gun registration, energy restrictions, feminist goals, or regulation on our use of oceans."

At the 2010 Eagle Forum Collegians Summit, Chris Horner, was featured reading from his latest book,"Power Grab: How Obama's Green Policies Will Steal Your Freedom and Bankrupt America". He throws a lot of language against the wall and waits to see what will stick. The freedom concept, and loss thereof, seems to get a lot of traction if the q/a part of the program is any indicator. It was in this forum that Ms Schlafly interrupted the proceedings to make the following point: "I use a 200 watt light bulb on my desk. I don't want to use those squiggly things that have no light. I can't hardly find a 200 watt light bulb in the stores anymore. I want the freedom to use the lightbulb I chose. I am losing my freedom".

It boils down to that. Of course within that silly example is the demand that she be allowed to burn whatever energy she wants and no socialist government agency is going to tell her she can't.

Carrie and I had a two hour drive the other day and we talked about this issue. This loss of freedom thing. We then proceeded to list freedoms we had lost.
I can't raise a pig in my backyard.
I can't drive 100 mph.
I can't water my lawn during a drought.
I can't walk my dog without a leash and I must pick up his poop.
I can't park a trailer, boat, or RV, in my driveway.
I can't buy a bottle of booze till I am 21.
I can't quit school till I am 16.
I can't dump my sewage in the gutter.
I can't run a business out of my garage.
I can't leave my children unsupervised.
I can't spray DDT in my garden.
I can't ride my bike on the sidewalk.
I can't grow marijuana.

I no longer can play music as loud as I want.
I can't let my lawn go to weed.
I am not allowed out of the ward if I have typhoid.
I can't wear cut offs to school.
I am not allowed to walk bottomless in public.
I can't cut down a tree in the park.
I can't dam the spring, or poison the well.

All of the above are freedoms I once had and were sacrificed for the common good. To those on the right, who give voice to a new "contract with America" the idea of common good does not extend to any limitations on their freedom. They are shredding the social contract that limits the rights of say a farmer to poison my food source, or exploit stoop labor, or butcher a "mad cow". They would drill for gas without consideration of the impact on ground water. They would manufacture a defective product and bear no responsibility for the consequences. They retain the right to exploit any and all resources regardless of the impact on the rest of us.

The most maddening element of this practice is that the exploiters are able to rally the very people they are going to singe in the name of protecting their freedoms.

I think the key to forming an opinion on all of this is to ask yourself not what freedoms you fear losing, but which freedoms you want your neighbor to have.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

When is enough, enough?

When is enough, enough?
Roman Abramovich, wiki here, gangster, thief, con-man, plutocrat and one of the wealthiest men in the world, has just had his boat, Eclipse, floated. It is notable as the largest private yacht in the world. A set of pics and description are here. It is made of steel. The weight of the boat, 13000 gross tonnes, when converted to pounds is 29,120,000 lbs. Fuel capacity is 8801 liters. ( 2325 gallons) It cruises at 25 knots an hour.
I was unable to obtain fuel consumption figures for the specific boat, but here is the rate for a charter boat half the size:
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 800 ltrs/hour (211 gallons).

The descriptions are really only best guesses, written by a salivating media, and the cost estimate is for the boat only, exclusive of furniture and toys. For a look inside another of these behemoths the WSJ recently published this video.

There is a decidedly mixed message within this video. While subtly mocking the $60k water faucet, the "nookie" chamber, or the walls lined with the hides of sting rays, the reporters appear to enjoy cavorting aboard, racing along the corridors and apparently wishing they could extend their stay. Nothing new about that. When boats float on "in the water" boat shows/sales the docks are flooded with on-lookers clawing aboard, wanting to know who owns what, and how much it costs. The owners know of the envy they provoke. Around the world in port after port owners have their yachts docked stern in, and proceed to dine in lavish excess while the proles stroll by and salivate. No fear of protest or a pitched grenade, owners know the poor eat each other.

Here is a list of other yachts that are the "top 100" in size.

We'll know later today if stories regarding the Florida candidate for senate, Jeff Greene, uses and abuses of his yacht sank his election bid.

We were living in Florida, just south of the Port Everglades cut on 9/11/01. Within an hour of the confirmation of the news of what had happened in NY and before we knew if the attack was limited, hundreds of yachts could be seen bobbing in the ocean. I called a boat builder I knew in the area and asked him what he knew, what was up? "They figure if this is it, their chances are better at sea then on shore, they're outta here." Says something about the character of the big boat owner.

We cannot suppose that all of this excess is without consequence. The argument that we have no right to dictate to any of these billionaires what they can or cannot do with their money is an argument WE cannot afford. By example we rarely restrict the scale of housing. If megabucks wants to build a McMansion he is generally free to do what he wants. However there are mitigating circumstances. When in the height of the drought that threatened to parch Atlanta in 2007, the county water authority placed restrictions on water consumption.

When it was discovered that a fat cat was consuming 440,000 gallons of water a month for his mansion the outrage and outcry resulting in forcing him to cut back. Public outrage reined in an excess that threatened the rest of us. This outrage is too rare. As tourists roam the "great houses" of the world they never ask how the wealth was obtained, how many backs were broken in the process of the erection of these monuments to excess.

There is no outrage at the overwhelming excesses of big boat owners. And the scale of their abuses. They are building the equivalent of private hotels that dwarf any of the so-called "great" houses.

One would hope, in a resource starved world, that we would shift the onus of responsibility where it belongs. We are barraged with stories of how marginal peasants, let's use Chiapus as an example, are deforesting the jungle. We blame them, not the end user who converts these exotic hardwoods into railings for his motor yacht.

Are we blind to the fact that having 30 million tons of steel processed for a private yacht is of enormous environmental impact. Do we really accept the idea that because a person can "afford" to burn fuel at the rate of gallons per mile it has no impact on the rest of us. These gluttons are eating our lunch and we don't pull the plate off the table. We stare like beggars at the banquet and validate their excess. We may have no political authority to curb them or rein them in, but we can abhor their behavior and let them know it. Maybe some of the rowdies at a Chelsea ( the team Abramovich just bought) soccer match might carry in a sign or two.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Roll Your Own

A cruise through my local supermarket this morning revealed the following facts: Boneless beef sirloin steak, America's favorite, was on sale for 2.99 a pound, pork sirloin roast was 1.49, and split chicken breasts were .99 cents. For reference know that in the trade these are referred to as "prime cuts".

Across the aisle, in the ever growing sausage section, a survey revealed the following prices: Store brand Italian sausage was 3.19, "Gourmet" whatever that means, was 3.39, Jimmy Dean's Breakfast was 3.39, so called "all natural" was 5.99, and D'Artagnan's was 9.18 a pound. Different brands of sausage made from chicken all hovered around the 6 dollar price point. Specialty sausage, chorizo for example was 4.99 a pound.

Hebrew Nats were 5.80 a pound and franks you shouldn't even consider eating fell to as low as $1.29. A new item, uncured franks (no nitrites), sell for 6-7 dollars a pound.

Bottom line: The prime cuts are half the cost of whatever finally makes it into the sausage of your choice. You can be assured your commercial sausage contains no prime cuts.

The old joke re. the making of laws and sausage, you don't want to see it, still holds. The following was the most info I would share with you without totally grossing you out:
"Spent layer chickens, an underutilized, inexpensive source of animal protein in the United States, were used to produce an acceptable all chicken frank following mechanical deboning of the chicken parts without pregrinding. The franks were subjected to shear tests and compared to two well-known commercial brands of chicken franks for overall acceptability by an untrained 59 member panel. The franks produced from mechanically deboned spent layer chickens (Lab franks) had greater resistance to shear than the two commercial brands and the panelists showed significantly greater preference for one of the commercial brands. Comments of the panelists indicated the texture of the lab-prepared franks was tougher than the two commercial brands. However, 12 members of the panel stated the lab-frank texture was tender. Collagen content of the spent layer franks was no higher than for the commercial brands. It is therefore concluded that the toughness could have been due to the nature of the myofibrillar proteins. Such toughness could be modified by tenderizing enzyme treatment of the raw material to produce varying degrees of frank softness or firmness depending on consumer preference".

Beef producers live with the daily fear that an incident of mad-cow entering the food chain is coming and the smart money is betting that it will be the result of bone material in beef that was "chipped off" and used for franks. That should be enough reason for you to consider making your own sausage.

You can go whole hog and buy sausage stuffing machines, casing, and learn to form sausage links while keeping the air out, or you can prepare your own recipe from prime cuts, control the additives by adding herbs and spices of your choice, add pure fat for flavor and mouth feel, and simply form a patty and fry or leave crumbled for pizza or pasta. The following is a site filled with recipes that you can adopt.

Here are my provisos. Use a food processor and make small batches that can be ground and mixed to a smooth paste. Always test a tiny bit in a hot pan to taste for seasoning.

For the truly food obsessed do the following. If you have a custom butcher shop, independent market, or slaughterhouse near by visit them and ask for caul fat. Here in Maine the way I obtained mine was to note a recipe on a restaurant menu that called for rabbit wrapped in caul. I called the chef and asked her to order an extra ten pounds for me. She did. I picked it up at the next lunch.

Caul fat is an inner organ lining the best of which comes from a pig. It is not greasy or smelly. In a ten pound box for example it will be squished together in a mass. Soak in a pan of water and start to separate the sheets. Lift a large sheet to a cutting board, and using a paring knife or scissors, cut 6 inch squares. (I pack what I don't use in small freezer bags). It won't be neat. It doesn't have to be. You can place a couple ounces of stuffing in the center, press to from a disk and fold the caul over. You can spread filling, tube like, across the caul and roll it like a frank. Fry over medium heat. The caul will melt away or leave just a trace of gorgeous netting. Once you have caul in your system you will discover a variety of uses. Here are pics of the ultimate chicken loaf.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Tis the season.

Tomatoes are in and I want to help to keep things simple. A good first principle is that canned tomatoes are for cooking and fresh tomatoes are to be eaten fresh. Most of us will simply cut or slice a fresh tomato and add it to a salad or sandwich. Here is a preparation that takes longer to write about then perform and will significantly improve your summer tomato pleasure.

Filleting a tomato. The pics are self explanatory. Here are some essentials. Just barely score the flesh. Immerse in boiling water for no more than a minute (you will notice the skin start to curl).

The point is not to cook the tomato. Plunge in a bowl of icy water. Remove center core. Peel.

Cut from the top to the bottom of the tomato at the point where the flesh is thickest. Err on the side of thicker. You can always remove excess with your fingers. Sometimes you will create a quarter piece or often the whole will remain intact.

These fillets are obviously dryer and thus better on bread, lack uggies which freak most kids and some adults, and can also be sliced and or diced for a variety of uses. Your salsa will improve at once.

Collect the uggies in a sieve and press and strain them for juice.

Here is a fabulous recipe: Under cook 1/2 pound of pasta by a minute. Save a half cup of cooking water. Heat retained 1/2 cup juice in saute pan, add pasta, swirl in hot water as needed to moisten, stir till absorbed (about a minute), turn out. Top with sliced fillets of tomato, oil, some shredded basil, a crack of black pepper or red flakes, a sprinkle of salt, serve 4.

A side dish: Roma style tomatoes are grown because they have thick flesh, a high meat to juice ratio and thus are perfect for cooking. There is no reason to grow your own given the producers do a great job of the whole process, including canning.
San Marzano "style" tomatoes are Roma type and unless labeled DOP are grown here. A lot of time and energy has been spent tasting different canned tomatoes and conclusions are reached that might have you going out and spending 5 bucks a can in the belief that an Italian San Marzano is a better tomato. If we were eating them from the can (we don't) the expense might be warranted. Given that, at least, we will smash a garlic clove, add a pepper flake, and cook our tomatoes in olive oil for at least 20 minutes I defy anyone to distinguish the difference in the source of the tomato once cooked. More important is to notice the amount of sodium added to the can. It varies widely and you don't need the extra salt. You can always add your own.
Consider how you want your canned tomatoes to perform and purchase the appropriate style. Crushed, sometimes labeled "kitchen ready" are the simplest for a basic sauce. Italians buy jars of "passata" for their sauce which are essentially crushed tomatoes passed through a sieve. You might want diced to hold up a little texture for a cooked TEX/MEX salsa, and whole tomatoes can stew with a chicken and hold up.
Many eschew tomato paste as something less then authentic. Big mistake. For years I couldn't discern what it was that smelled so rich emanating from the back of checkered tablecloth "Ity" restaurants. I couldn't duplicate that aroma and I knew it was key to a successful sauce. Roberto Donna of Galileo in D.C. finally clued me in. Caramelize a couple of tablespoons of paste in oil with garlic till just lightly brown and then proceed to add tomatoes etc. Ah the love.

Monday, July 12, 2010

World of Work

You know a problem is getting "serious" when the NYT does a feature on its front page, American Dream Is Elusive for New Generation. The story is a profile of the agonies of 2008 Colgate grad Scott Nicholson, the unemployed millennium gen, solid son of the solidly middle class. The latest example of an economy gone bad. Comments attached to the piece
and the letters to the editor that followed, give him and his family a pretty swift ass kickin. He appears self indulgent and his family enable him.

No one in this story, or the related comments, challenges any of the basic premises underlying Scott's predicament. He must be thankful for any job offer. He must get out of the house. He might move to Europe where the job possibilities might be better. Scott must get better at becoming a wage slave to a system that doesn't need or want him.

During the same week Alternet picked up a story from Psychotherapy Networker / By Mary Sykes Wylie, appropriately titled: Has the American Dream Become our Nightmare?

That title could be thought to be the first of a set of fundamental questions that needs to be asked and answered. Other questions that we all have to ask include: How might Scott spend his days in ways that don't make the rest of our lives materially worse? What is it that we need, if anything, that Scott might help us acquire? How might Scott evaluate what he really needs? What are Scott's lifetime ambitions; where does he want to be, with whom, and how many of his ambitions involve money? Obviously none of the answers to these questions or even how to pose them were part of Scott's education.

Colgate senses the angst in their graduates. Their response in justifying $54.000 in annual costs to attend include assisting the host community by buying up buildings and placing University offices within them, publishing studies that demonstrate the Colgate grads do better salary-wise then many peers, and bringing back Alumna with a job to share their experiences as a demonstration of "you too can do it." In this case the alum is a vp at MTV.

What Colgate might do: They could rethink their curriculum in terms of 21st century reality. They could sponsor teach-ins on the most critical issues of the day. They could assist their students in conceiving of and moving into a world that was sustainable, ethical, and elegant. They could strengthen their career counseling department. To be effective they have to anticipate the world their graduates are going to enter. The university could provide transitional housing for grads while they determined their next moves. They could incubate entrepreneurial alternatives to traditional job searches. The university might provide goods and services: health care, senior activities, child care, food service, art activities, to their neighbors, enriching the entire community. Any number of grads might be part of the delivery mechanism. Most importantly the university is going to have to become the well spring of alternatives to a system that is so fundamentally broken.

The best example of what is required is exemplified by the award winning documentary film, TEE Shirt Travels, embedded here.

Filmed in Zambia, this film explores the unintended consequences of western do-gooders shipping second hand clothing to a nation in "need". In the process we wiped out their indigenous textile industry and created a nation of re-sellers. It is heartbreaking. And just when you think you can't stand it any more you have the testimony of the stated dream of an unbelievably hard working Zambian young man. His ambition is to have a car. We have shortened the distance between the continents. We have shortened the timeline of civilization.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Field Studies

The garden is starting to yield. Parsley, basil, mint tops, and early lettuce have all been picked and the first lesson of gardening is in hand; you must be a brutal realist.

Pruning and Thinning. Salad greens are topped, flowers are dead headed, and herbs are pinched back every day. If you harvest early and often you increase your yield. So by eating more mint, I get more mint?! Yes. You delay bolting and the plant going to seed. It is counter-intuitive.
When sowing seeds there are two major schools: One lays out rows, drills holes for individual seeds and assumes they will all be vital. The other plants the entire seed packet, waits to see which seeds produce sprouts and then thins the row to the proper spacing. You lose half or more of your sprouts. You get more yield.
When growing fruit trees you learn to prune back, to thin, in order to increase quantity and quality of yield. You mean if I knock or pick off every other apricot on that tree I will get more apricots?! Oh yes, and fuller, more flavorful fruit and a tree that can bear the weight.
Dead heading, (removing drooping flowers and their seed stems), your petunia, pansy, geranium plants will increase their blooms and their blooming cycle.

All of the above require intense hand labor. Determine how much you want to work and plan the size of your garden accordingly. End of lesson one.

You will learn to kill. Is it killing if I don't see my prey? Carrie, a near Jainist, will turn her fingers green with the bodies of the dead aphids she strips from her roses.
Pest control often evolves in the following cycle: Squirrels are cute, they are part of the scheme of things, it's fun to have them in the garden. Lets get a HavaHart and move the critters out. Does the city allow air guns within its borders.

Gardening will turn your world view upside down. No matter the scale, be it a single pot or a plot, you will never bemoan another rain shower. You will monitor frost warnings. You will learn to be sensitive to direction of and intensity of sunshine. You will become attuned to the vagaries of nature. There are going to be far more complications to this process than you imagined. The easy acceptance of the concept "organic" is going to be challenged. You will understand failure in new and important ways. You are not in control of your environment despite your best efforts. When all else is failing you will spray with chemicals, or, you will retire from the field. You will come to understand that every crop you plant is the result of genetic modification. The horror stories and the resulting rampant fear of GMO's may or may not be warranted. The patenting of our food supply is terrifying.

A garden is never "vital" for our sustenance, that is our privilege. It can however become a classroom for understanding the larger forces at work in the world. That is the promise of school based garden curriculum elements. They stop way short of the kind of truth telling that our citizens need to learn to appreciate where their food comes from. You get no second chance in a crop field. It is not a classroom. End of lesson two.

Promises of the learning power of the garden that won't be fulfilled include your understanding of your connection to the earth. At best you have a patch, a highly controlled and defined space. It is no more a microcosm of the earth than a goldfish bowl is to the sea. Growing a successful tomato in no way informs your understand of how you are going to sustain yourself in November. Gardens are not agriculture and large scale gardens, despite our desire to believe, are not capable of feeding us. Some of us may be able to afford $40 a pound greens but in the scheme of things that is irrelevant. Thomas Jefferson had most of it right at Monticello and in his design of The University, The Academical Village. From the time of Plato's "groves of academe," gardens have been linked to the contemplative and scholarly life as well. Jefferson described the University as a set of buildings "arranged around an open square of grass and trees." The Pavilion Gardens provided both a place in which to study and a subject of study. Jefferson wrote that "such a plan would afford the quiet retirement so friendly to study." As I continue to harp on the University as the available model of how we might live in the real world visit the UVA web site and appreciate that faculty and students alike fight to stay within the Village.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Class of 2010

This blog space has intended to infill the gaps in the formal curriculum that you have just completed.
Prior posts have dealt with ancillary housing options, yet more shelter strategies, dorms as models of "real world" possibilities , economic survival options, and the ultimate in "sharing" programs.
I posted a short list of supplemental courses that I called "the art of crap detection" within this post.

All of the above pointed out that the most important lessons you were learning were informal; living in groups, being carless, the economies of scale, and that having access is more important than owning.
If you insist on leaving the "ideal world" you just inhabited, where you literally had it all, then consider the following my commencement address.

The decision you are going to make re. where to live is more important than your career choice. Typically, media stories will list cities that are attractive to recent grads and list the criteria supporting their choices. This story by Richard Florida goes so far as to cite that which is "important" to 20 somethings; bars, restaurants, and entertainment. (You are worth no more than your ability to consume). What everyone of the chosen cities have in common is that they are already what they are going to be. As a migrant to any one of them you are chasing a dream already realized by those who preceded you. You hope to become part of that which already exists. "I am moving to NYC cuz that's where the hipsters live". What you can't know, because your teachers like Richard Florida haven't a clue, is that you are about to participate in the "next biggest sucker syndrome". The person who is about to leave for someplace where she has a chance of actually carving out a living for herself, needs someone to whom she can sub-lease her too expensive 350 sq ft apartment. Don't be that person.

Its is going to take some backbone to resist the kind of marketing crap proffered by the merchants of cool so lets use some common sense.

The criteria that I would suggest you apply when considering where to live include: What is the total tax burden of the place you might live? What is the cost of auto; insurance, registration, and taxation? What are the rules regarding house sharing? What is the speed of the local ISP provider? What are the average utility costs? What is the fiscal status of the town, state in which you might reside? What is the cost to have a dental filling? What is the ratio of others to whom you might be attracted? Are there viable and independent media outlets? What are police practices regarding victimless crimes? Applying the above criteria would automatically rule out California.

The places that do qualify are invariably going to be the subject of bad news. You are going to hear about the abandoned, the broke and broken places that are the casualties of the economic collapse. This is exactly where I suggest you begin your quest. Only when a place is degraded enough does it become possible to have an opportunity for real growth. Consider that Georgetown, D.C., Harlem, NYC, The Mission, S.F., SoBe, and now the Design District in Miami, are examples of what were once neglected slums. Their reconstruction afforded their pioneers the opportunity for employment, new think, and identity. Now those very people couldn't afford to live in any one of these neighborhoods should they chose to move there today.

In a world where one can literally buy anything from anywhere and have it delivered, where the newest ideas are instantly available on the web, where affinity networks thrive, the pressure to be within the hip cores is unimportant.

The myth that there are "creative communities" belies the fact that the most significant wellsprings of art are often at a remove, giving the artist the space they need to create their own identities. Think Morgan Freeman, Clarksburg Ms., Dennis Hopper, Wilmington N.C., the crowd at Black Mountain, N.C. or Georgia O'Keeffe in Abiquiu, N.M.

More important than any of the shibboleths that are so indicative of mob think, absorb the most important principle you weren't taught during your college days, buy low! This is just as true in real estate as it is an adage in the stock market.

When a place has become cheap enough that you, or more importantly a group, can pool resources and actually gain a foothold, then you have a real opportunity. Exploit the social network you have developed, form a gang, and move somewhere. The wants and needs of that place and the opportunities will sort themselves out. This is exactly what happened in Hardwick Vt.

What a fabulous example of the success of people who went their own way. Other food oriented activities are located through Balle.

Get busy. There has rarely been more opportunity.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Never Again

I don't want to see this picture ever again. Not this one, or any like it. As we in America inch ever closer to the maelstrom that has already destabilized many world capitals we have to insure that our children are safe from the excesses of "crowd control". As the truth about the damage that has been done to the economy that our children inherit becomes clearer to them, I full well expect that their scattered and relatively quiet reactions are going to bloom into full scale uprisings.

What is now confined to college campuses, where tuition increases and class closing seem to be the issues of the day, is going to migrate as more and more graduates carry debt and no job prospects into their future. Their plight will move off the cartoon pages and onto the front pages. And we, their parents and teachers, and friends, are going to ask them to do the heavy political action.

I have never understood the psychology of those who are given the guns and bayonets when they turn on their own. Simply following orders doesn't seem to do it. And I don't believe there is a great ideological divide between kids in uniforms and their brothers and sisters on the street. Yet it happens over and over. Kids are asked to pummel and shoot each other. In the name of law and order.

I think we have time to get in front of this curve. Every one of those kids in uniform has a parent, a guardian, a relative, a friend who knows them well enough to broach the subject. Every person who knows someone on the force, in the guard, or full time enlisted, ought to begin a campaign to sensitize them to the fact that they are not the handmaidens of the oligarchy. No one joined to protect the vested interests of the bankers against the citizenry. This is not an issue that will break down on party lines. People who are suffering at the hands of this regime ought to have the right to protest against it. They have the right to demand and effect change. And those sworn to protect and defend them must respect that solemn oath.